The last few months have been a tad crazy in our household, and, as is always the case when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I have turned to food to help me cope. This is something I have been doing for many, many years, and while I wouldn’t say my over-indulgent sessions with the contents of our kitchen pantry come close to a full-blown binge eating episode, I am all too familiar with the intense guilt that occurs immediately following a late-night session with a family-sized jar of peanut butter, and I’m sick and tired of berating myself for my inability to control my emotional eating when life throws lemons at me.
So after I woke up feeling swollen and bloated and full of self-loathing a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to give myself a good talking to. I have been caught up in the vicious cycle of eating and exercising well for weeks at a time, and then falling off the wagon and completely erasing all of my hard work the moment life becomes busy or stressful for far too long. And while it’s fine to get off track and indulge once in a while, the constant ups and downs in my lifestyle are not only horrible for my health, but they also have devastating effects on my mood.
Which isn’t fair on anyone.
In the past, I’ve been great at using bandaid solutions to get myself back on track when things get out of hand. I ditch my nightly glass of wine, I stop eating sugar, I increase the intensity of my cardio sessions at the gym, and I almost always see immediate results.
And that’s great!
But my rigid and obsessive tendencies inevitably result in failure because I simply cannot run 10K at the gym each day with nothing but a few kale leaves and a couple of bites of grilled chicken floating around in my body.
It’s just not feasible.
Which leads me to the point of this post.
In an effort to make changes that will set me up for long-term success in my quest to be a better version of myself so I can set a good example for my daughter, I’ve put pen to paper and come up with 10 strategies to stop binge eating so I can kiss emotional eating goodbye forever. These tips have been instrumental not only in helping me get back on track, but also in empowering me to ensure I continue to make good choices when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious.
But before I share my tips with you, I need to make something perfectly clear.
I am not a doctor, nor am I a dietician, and while I use the term ‘binge eating’ in this post, I am using it very loosely. This is a collection of tips and tricks that have helped me get my emotional eating under control, and I hope they work for you too. But I urge you to seek medical attention if you suffer from a full-blown eating disorder.
With that said, here are 12 strategies that have taught me how to stop binge eating once and for all!
1. STOP DIETING
I have never been much of a dieter, but I have been known to cut calories and swear off certain food groups for extended periods of time, and while these efforts have been very well-rewarded in the short-term, the long-term implications have never been good. Ultra-restrictive diets are known to have a negative impact on our metabolism, and by cutting all of the foods we love out of our diets, we are inevitably setting ourselves up for a binge. Food is made to be enjoyed, and by adopting a diet that is high in wholesome, nutritious foods (think: vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins) and still allowing yourself to enjoy the things you love once in a while, you will enjoy long-term success both with your weight loss goals and your desire to stop emotional eating. So stop fasting, juicing, detoxing, and avoiding carbs, and remember: moderation is key!
2. KEEP HUNGER IN CHECK
I used to be the queen of eating healthy and ignoring my hunger pangs all day, but once it came time to prepare dinner and I allowed myself a taste of this (and a little bit of that), I found it very difficult to stop eating. I’ve had countless people tell me that I should eat the bulk of my food throughout the day, with dinner being my smallest meal, but since I’ve always been a night eater, I was too afraid to give this approach a try. What if I died of starvation in my sleep?! As it turns out, balancing my food intake and ensuring I never reach the point where I am so hungry I need to eat everything in sight allows me to make better food choices, and also enables me to stick to eating proper portion sizes…even when I’m indulging.
3. EAT LEAN PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL
Incorporating lean protein into each of your meals is paramount in keeping hunger at bay as it keeps you feeling full longer. Chicken, eggs, beans, seafood, and low-fat dairy are great options, but if you struggle to find natural sources of lean protein, a good protein powder may be the way to go.
4. AVOID TRIGGER SITUATIONS
In my experience, binge eating tends to be situational. I rarely, if ever, overeat when I’m busy, but the moment I sit down on the couch after a stressful day, I start to think about food. Of course, avoiding our couch is impossible – I love watching TV too much! – but after I really analyzed the circumstances surrounding my emotional eating, I noticed that I am more likely to overeat when I drink alcohol and/or when I stay up really late. We all know that alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation can contribute to weight gain, but it wasn’t until I really assessed the situation that I realized just how big those 2 triggers are for me. So now I reserve alcohol for special occasions when I’m out of the house, and when I feel the munchies coming on while I’m watching TV late at night, I put my PJs on and go to bed.
5. LEARN PROPER PORTION CONTROL
I used to eat glutinous foods straight out of the packaging, and it wasn’t until a trainer at my gym asked me to write down EVERYTHING I ate for a 3-day period that I fully understood how much I was consuming each time I went into the kitchen for a couple of chips or a small spoonful of peanut butter. I have since started to force myself to put every single snack I eat (even if it’s just 3 measly potato chips) into a small bowl, and I find this strategy not only forces me to take ownership over what I’m eating, but also makes me more aware of how much I’m consuming.
6. REPLACE ONE TASTE WITH ANOTHER
Since depriving yourself of your favorite foods often leads to binge eating, I am a big believer that you should have small portions of the things you love every now and then to ensure you don’t feel like you’re missing out. The only problem I have with this strategy is that I sometimes find it difficult to stop at just a couple of bites. When this happens, I find replacing one taste with another is very helpful. For example, if I allow myself a couple of forkfuls of chocolate cake and worry I won’t be able to stop eating until the entire cake is gone, I’ll have a slice of cheese, make myself a cup of coffee, brush my teeth, or do something else to get the taste of chocolate as far away from my mouth as I can possibly can. It doesn’t ALWAYS work, but I’d say it keeps me from overeating about 80% of the time.
7. REDIRECT YOUR ATTENTION
I mentioned earlier that my emotional eating tends to happen at night when I’m drinking wine, and that avoiding alcohol and going to bed early often keeps me from binge eating. But sometimes I’m overcome with the desire to polish off a bag of chocolate chips smack in the middle of the day, and rather than giving into those cravings, I find diverting my attention to something else really helps. I usually go for a workout when temptation threatens to get the best of me, but other things like going for a walk, making myself a cup of tea, calling a friend, or organizing my closet have also proven to be good distractions.
8. PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING
I have a tendency to eat all of my meals either in front of my computer or while watching TV, and even though I enjoy doing this, I find the act of eating while simultaneously doing something else almost always makes me overeat. So when a friend recently turned me onto the idea of Mindful Eating, I decided to give some of the techniques a try. I draw the line at eating salads with chopsticks and chewing each bite 25 times, but I do find that sitting down to enjoy my meals and snacks without distractions makes a huge difference in the amount of food I consume. So I now force myself to eat EVERYTHING at the kitchen table – even my late night snacks – to ensure I am enjoying my food and paying attention to my hunger cues.
9. DITCH CHEAT DAYS
I used to be a big believer in cheat days. I would eat healthy all week long and then once the weekend hit, I would indulge in anything and everything my heart desired. I felt like I deserved it after all of my hard work, but when I started keeping a food journal, I realized just how much I was sabotaging my weight loss efforts. I had no idea I could undo an entire week’s worth of effort in 24 short hours, and I found I was constantly fluctuating between healthy eating and unhealthy binging. But now that I’m not dieting and allowing myself to indulge in glutinous foods in small quantities whenever I want to, I find I don’t NEED a cheat day, which makes those weekend binge-eating sessions a thing of the past.
10. GIVE YOURSELF GRACE
One of the things I hate most about dieting is that it creates this intense need to be perfect. I find I get so caught up in trying to follow everything to a tee, and once I slip up (as I inevitably do), I get sucked into that ‘why bother trying if I’m just going to fail?’ attitude. Those feelings eventually make me feel horrible and depressed, which makes me overeat, and the more I overeat, the more horrible and depressed I feel. It’s becomes this vicious circle I can’t get out of, and I refuse to play that game anymore. So rather than following a strict diet, I now give myself loose guidelines with room for indulgences here and there. For the most part, this non-obsessive approach to food has gone a long way in helping me banish emotional eating from my life, but I still have days when I overdo it. The only difference is that rather than berating myself when I eat more than my fair share of chocolate cake, I take ownership for my decision, remind myself that I’m only human, stick with my promise to make better choices at my next meal, and move on.
We all experience some form of emotional eating in our lives, but some of us are more prone to binge eating than others. The trick is to ensure we have a proper plan in place to help us cope when the desire to overeat strikes. And when we do make unhealthy choices, a little self-compassion can go a long way.
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